The Yin and Yang of Complementary Medicine

Dr. Zhang Heating A Cup

Heated Suction Cups Being Applied

Suction Cups In Place

Post Dry-Cupping Session

Herbalist Ms. Xiong Preparing a Herbal Batch

Herbs and Ingredients

January, 2017

For centuries, western and eastern medicine have co-existed. Many believe that western medicine cures the ailment but eastern medicine diagnoses the root of the problem. In western medicine, physicians take a pragmatic approach by addressing symptoms to alleviate common health ailments whereas eastern medicine attempts to get to the root of the symptoms and brings a holistic aspect. No matter which you prefer or even a combination it's clear that both options are there to combat health concerns.

Your preference for a particular health remedy could be shaped by your cultural upbringing and sometimes it could be a personal experience or ideology that shapes your choice.  A few years ago, I had some shoulder pain and at the behest of a friend who had benefited from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) I agreed to try Cupping from his reliable contact - Master Gwok.  I didn’t know what to expect but after meeting and chatting with Master Gwok I trusted his ability.  He applied wet cupping to my upper shoulder area and after the treatment I felt more relaxed and pain free.  I was sold on this alternative way of pain relief even though I had initial doubts.  


Cupping is an ancient form of therapy that uses special cups to create suction to aid in pain relief; blood flow or inflammation and is also used as a type of deep tissue massage. People have been performing cupping for over 3000 years. The popularity of cupping in the US saw a surge with the media coverage of U.S. Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps and the perfectly circular brandishing markings on his back.

There are two forms of cupping - wet and dry. Wet cupping is a form of medicinal bleeding or bloodletting. The skin is pricked with a special instrument and suction cups are placed on the upper back. This method is usually used to remove toxins from the body.  Dry cupping, on the other hand does not prick the skin but places suction cups on the neck, shoulders and back. The traditional Chinese cupping method is known to treat the respiratory system; the common cold; pneumonia and bronchitis.  Since we were leading up to the cold and flu season I opted for the dry cupping method as a form of prevention.

The Journey

After doing some research I made a Cupping appointment with Dr. Peter Zhang at Audubon Acupuncture & Herbs.  After filling out the customary medical history form I met Dr. Zhang for a consultation session that lasted about 10 to 15 minutes. Dr. Zhang had a warm and pleasant demeanor and started the session by doing a pulse reading on both my left and right wrists while asking some basic questions about my health and exercise routine.  Based on the pulse readings and my answers Dr. Zhang made some suggestions on how to maintain my health through exercise but smiled generously and said “You look very healthy”!  Since I had an overall good diagnosis, we moved on to the Cupping treatment.

In the procedure, Dr. Zhang applied a flammable substance on a stick to trap heat into glass cups which then acted like suction devices on my shoulder and back.  Initially, there was a cold sensation from the glass cups to my skin but this quickly dissipated. After, the cups were applied, I felt my back begin to tighten up - and it felt similar to a deep tissue massage. According to their website and TCM philosophy “Cupping method warms and promotes the free flow of Qi (vital energy) and blood in the meridians, dispels cold and dampness, and diminishes swellings and pains.”  

10-15 minutes later the suction cups were removed as easily as they went on and I was told to stay in the face down position on the table for about 3 to 5 minutes. Then, I was later instructed to lay on my back for approximately 2 to 3 minutes.  The herbalist Ms. Gretchen Xiong advised me not to have any cold drinks for the next four hours and to keep my body warm.  The whole experience was quick, easy and not all together awkward. Other than a few bruises that lasted a few days, I had no lingering side effects and felt rejuvenated.

More Alternatives

There is much more to TCM besides cupping and some of these treatments like acupuncture, herbal medicine and Qi Gong therapy are also offered at Audubon Acupuncture & Herbs. Interestingly, while waiting with the suction cups in place I overheard a lady in the reception area who sounded desperate for a solution to a pain that no one had been able to diagnose or address. She said she had had surgery recently and felt the pain when she sneezed or coughed but all the specialists she had seen couldn’t make any recommendations apart from painkillers which she said she would rather avoid. When paying for my treatment I asked the herbalist if that was customary that people used TCM as a last solution and she said yes and sometimes it's also their first choice and occasionally clients are referred there by doctors practicing western medicine.  

Alternative or complementary medicine has a long tradition of providing a holistic approach by personalizing the medication to suit individuals and their ailments.  It is mostly in harmony with nature in that it prescribes herbs and treatments that have been passed down for centuries.   The growth of complementary medicine might be linked to our awareness of addiction to prescription pills and our instinct to avoid using man-made medication for long periods. In most modern cities, we have the freedom to choose health options and find a bridge between western technique and ancient practices.  This amalgamation of knowledge and approach could lead to a solution for improving our quality of life. 


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